Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network

Gypsy Moths

This text is taken from an email from Diane Aoki.

On my way through the oak grove (on the Northwestern camups) (a landscaped "savanna" of original oaks and mowed grass under which a few spring beauties still reside) I kept seeing what I thought were fast flying skippers. In fact the more I looked the more I saw. They flew very rapidly and erratically, and I caught glints of orange now and then. They flew over the grass, around the oaks, over hedges, and even high up in the canopy of the oaks. These things were everywhere. For a half hour I stood and waited for one of these energetic little buggers to alight. Instead, they just seemed to disappear altogether. I crept up to a bush, a pile of wood chips, a tree trunk, and nothing! Where were these things? What were they?? Why were there so many one moment, then poof, gone??

Eventually in the course of a half hour I saw one land on a sunny patch of wood mulch at the base of an oak. I crept up close enough to see that it was---a moth! This was a skipper sized creature with spread wings rather than folded, mottled in variations of beige, sable, cream and yes, orange, but with upright feathery antennae. Most definitely a moth, but with very butterflyish wings. I could have just left it at that, but I was curious to know what kind of moth flies during the daytime, and in such great numbers?? Hmmmm. I touched it with my finger and off it flew in that by now familiar quick, and very butterfly-like zig zag.

I began to scour the tree trunks to see if these guys did what most other moth species do, that is, hang around on trees. Most of the moths I found on the oaks were completely different--large, pale, folded winged ones with the furry thorax most of us are so familiar with. Many of these moths sat atop a peachy colored mass of gross looking somethingorother--an egg mass?? I also found a few dark torpedo shaped pupa cases that had since been vacated--but these resembled butterfly cases rather than moths.

Finally on the way back to the office, seeing more and more and still more of these creatures (I am sure I saw a couple hundred by this time), I came upon Ground Zero. An old spruce tree across from the Deering Library had a cloud of these pseudo-skippers flitting madly back and forth among the needles. I stood in the midst of the cloud and waited for one to alight. None did, although I did find one on the trunk of the spruce, quite near one of the "regular" moths, in fact, on top of it. I touched it but it wouldn't budge. Gently I grasped the wings together (they were spread, remember) and lifted it off the other moth. It seemed to be stuck together. Yuck! And what WAS that peach fuzzy stuff under the white moth?!

Well, turns out after googling moths, its none other than the Gypsy Moth. Auuuuuugh! See the link below for more info. I hope this comes in handy for anyone else who has been puzzling over some hard to catch skipper that's all of a sudden been appearing on your site. Some things to note: Are you near trees when you see them? Have you been seeing one after another? Have you been frustrated in trying to catch them because they never alight on flowers (adults don't eat, only mate, which might explain the frenzied flying) My advice is if you are curious, take some time to examine the trees on your site, esp mature oaks and any spruce or pine if you have them, look for the peachy egg masses and the white females, and you may see one of your "skippers" hovering nearby.

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